Sermon for November 10, 2002
III: Where Your Heart Is: Celebrating
A small envelope comes in the mail. It's an invitation.
You open it. The invitation is to a celebration: a birthday party for someone
you have known for many years. You are happy and excited. The party will be
fun. You look forward to it. It's a genuine celebration: one of those good events
that help us remember the importance of life. In the end, in celebrations of
life mark what is important.
Each day God sends us many small invitations to celebrate life. God invites us into the celebration of life, over and over again. Most of the time, we do not even open the envelopes. We discard the invitations to celebrate and to enjoy life, tossing aside the envelopes, and unaware of the contents.
Somehow in our society, God became more associated with obligation and duty and requirements and hard decisions than invitations to parties. Somehow we have lost the celebrative side of God. God invites us to enjoy the celebration of life. But today we remember that we are called to celebrate the joy of being alive.
Sometimes our sense of celebration seems haunted. Despite our call to celebrate, we may feel an uneasiness underneath the surface. The difficulties with celebration are raised in these lessons today.
The first difficulty in celebrating fully is raised by Amos. The prophet Amos condemns empty celebration. Amos, five centuries before Jesus, speaks of the joy and celebration that should be part of the worship of God's people. God and the people are to find delight in the sacrifice and the celebration of thanks offered in the temple. But according to Amos, there is no joy when the society in which the celebration occurs is filled with injustice, poverty, and human beings struggling to survive. Celebration in worship assumes that all people have an opportunity to celebrate equally. Unless there is a sense of justice about our celebration, it feels empty and hollow. Amos reminds us that the people who need our Christmas gifts most are not our relatives, but the poor among us.
A second difficulty with celebration is in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. Our celebration becomes hard when we are grieving our losses. Paul writes seventy-five years after Jesus. The celebration these people are looking forward to is the coming kingdom of God on earth. They believe that this end is near, and the end is a celebration and joyous time. But as they think on the coming celebration, there is a shadow, an emptiness. They miss their loved ones, the ones who have died. They know they should be happy at the coming of the Lord, but they also are wondering about their relatives and friends. Often when we celebrate the holidays, we too, miss those who have gone before. That "missing" is one of the difficulties of celebration. It can cause us great pain. While remembering our loved ones, we need to go on, knowing that we will meet them at the final celebration at the end of time.
A third difficulty with the celebration is found in the story of Jesus. Sometimes we are not ready to celebrate. By the time the party starts, the foolish maidens have run out of oil. They are not prepared to celebrate. Celebration requires preparation of the heart and also of the body. If we are not prepared, the celebration comes and goes, and we miss it. Holidays are like that. Unless we take the time to prepare, we will miss the spirit of the coming holiday season. In the preparation we discover our heart's capacity to celebrate.
The celebration of worship is like that too. Unless we prepare our hearts to receive the Lord in the Word, in the bread and in the wine, the worship service will come and go and we will be left out in the cold. Celebrations are empty unless we prepare ourselves to be ready.
Celebration is this week's stewardship theme for Where Your Heart
Is. The stewardship themes have taken us through gathering in the presence of
God and hearing the word of the Lord, a word that may sound strange as we try
to make some sense of it, become suspicious of the sense we make of it and then
discover its significance for us. We gather, in this place, to mark passing
of our lives. When we gather, we hear the word of God.
When we gather we also celebrate. Each Sunday, we celebrate using bread and the wine to mark the real presence of God. We celebrate the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. And we celebrate striving for justice and peace in a broken world. Our celebration is based on the memory of the last days of the life of Jesus when he took bread and wine and blessed them, and asked us to always eat and drink in celebration of his life. For many years now, we have been celebrating this eucharist, this good grace of our Lord at this table.
Amos reminds us that our celebration can become empty. But we are challenged in this feast to help others.
Holy Communion may be a time of sadness as we confront our sin and remember our losses in our families and in our congregation. But we are challenged in this feast to remember that in, with, and under the bread and the wine, we are reunited with all those who have gone before us and all those yet to come. For almost 150 years, our predecessors have come to this altar to celebrate the forgiveness of sins. We miss them. But we will see them again.
Jesus reminds us to prepare ourselves each time we come to the Lord's celebration. Communion can easily become a mechanical thing, so that when we come to the communion rail, we have run out of oil and we miss the real presence of the Lord. Let us prepare our hearts, confess our sins, feel the forgiveness, amend our lives, and pledge ourselves to justice and peace. Then we are ready to receive the celebration of the Lord.
We are quickly approaching the season of celebration. Thanksgiving is a little more than two weeks away. Remember in these celebrations as well, that we are called to celebrate with justice rather than mirth, to enjoy this Christmas even if we are missing someone, and to savor the preparation so that we are ready. We are called to gather, to hear, and to celebrate. You are invited. Open one of the many invitations to celebrate you will receive from God this week.